Photo-Grammetric Fight Club

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Visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug says that David Fincher's Fight Clubfeatures only about 60 digital shots, but "over half of them were severeR&D projects, a couple of which probably cost close to a million bucks bythemselves." Vendors included Digital Domain, Blue Sky, and lead effects'house BUF Compagnie, Paris. BUF's "photo-grammetric" technique-a method ofcreating photo-real animation out of 2D still images that results in theso-called "frozen-in-time" effect-factored extensively in the project.

One scene depicts a condo catching fire at the moment and place of detonation: a gas leak under a kitchen refrigerator. The scene shows bolts of colorful plasma as they invade the kitchen before the actual fire breaks out.BUF's technique brings 3D camera movement to the still images.

The process depends on a meticulous still-photo shoot on-set. For thekitchen sequence, the photographer shot for three days, working from a mapbased on BUF's digital pre-visualization. "We took extreme close-ups oflittle things, like the tiny gap behind the refrigerator," Haug explains.

The photographer shot from five cardinal points-north, south, east, west,and above-using two still cameras at each point. This permitted filmmakersto later create 3D transitions digitally.

The 35mm photos were then scanned into BUF computers at the highestpossible resolution: "about 6K," according to Haug. BUF artists usedproprietary software to seamlessly stitch the still images together andeliminate any distortions.

Once all the images were captured, BUF digitally re-created the kitchenelements, such as the floor and refrigerator. Artists then placed thosecomputer models in the correct beginning and end positions for thesequence. The remaining photo elements, plus newly created CG plasmaimages, were then re-manipulated to match the new, CG versions of what werepreviously 2D kitchen images.

The technique was also applied to a unique sex scene featuring CG bodyparts in a motion-blurred tangle. Haug says that the scene was shot ontofilm with the actors to give BUF a template map for the CG work. But theactual individual body parts and motion blur are all CG.